Emmanuel Kafe and Kudakwashe Ruzive
THE Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Agriculture last week said it would intensify probe into allegations that surrogate marketers have flooded the tobacco marketing industry and are fleecing farmers by buying the crop at low prices, before smuggling it out.
Despite the good quality tobacco that is being delivered to the auction floors this season, there have been increasing reports of side marketing – with some agents allegedly prejudicing farmers and the country of millions of dollars in potential revenue.
Most farmers that are falling prey to the side marketing syndicates, are those who encountered difficulties transporting their produce during lockdown.
Side marketers are understood to have capitalised on that gap to buy the golden leaf for prices of around US$1,20 per kilogramme, with some farmers accepting the deal to avoid high transport costs and travelling hustles.
Speaking after touring the auction floors last week, the chairperson of the Committee, Justice Mayor Wadyadyena, said Parliament would get to the bottom of the matter.
“There is evidence which points to the fact that farmers are being fleeced. What we want at the end of the day is for the farmer to benefit. We also suspect that there are cigarette-making companies that are taking tobacco from Zimbabwe to South Africa.
‘‘Why are cigarettes sold cheaply in South Africa when they are manufactured in Zimbabwe?” he queried.
The committee raised concern that some officials at the TIMB could be part of the side marketing syndicates.
TIMB chief executive officer Meanwell Gudu said he could not respond to the smuggling allegations as the matter falls under the Ministry of Industry and Commerce.
Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union executive director Mr Paul Zachariya said side marketing of tobacco prejudices farmers as they lose out to fly-by-night middlemen.
“TIMB must continue to clean up the grower registrations and intensify farmer engagements and contracts awareness.
“These middlemen somehow have tobacco growers’ numbers, contract farming agreements must be adhered to in order to ensure that tobacco financing is not jeopardised,” he said.
Mr Zachariya said the terms under contract farming arrangements must be further strengthened and enforced.
Statistics availed by the TIMB on Friday showed that 170 million kilogrammes of tobacco had been delivered to the floors compared to 144 million kilogrammes delivered by the same time last year.
The value of the tobacco delivered so far is US$468 million, compared to US$350 million last year.
TIMB is expecting to receive a record 200 million kg of tobacco this year.